Cloud Atlas: A Movie with Multiple Positive Themes

Cloud Atlas is an awe-inspiring film with a number of positive themes. If you are willing to put some effort into your movie watching and enjoy your stories complex and meaningful then you may well love Cloud Atlas as I did.
Directors Tom Twyker and the Wachowskis have managed to pull off what seemed impossible. They have produced an amazing screen adaptation of this intricate and multifaceted novel by David Mitchell.

You’ll get a taste of it from this extended trailer.

But be warned. If you want to steer clear of sex, violence and swearing then this movie is not for you. I have to confess to closing my eyes in some of the more violent scenes and also wondering if it really needed so many uses of the f-word. Nevertheless I felt the on the whole the movie was very inspiring and positive.

What is Cloud Atlas about?

It is composed of six separate stories with the action relentlessly cutting between them. Each story is of a different genre including science fiction, period drama, romance and detective thriller.

Each story is viewed in someway by the protagonist in the next. They are reading a diary or reading their letters or watching a film of their adventure. In this way the actions in one story can influence the actions in another. A stand for justice in one story can ricochet across the decades to inspire a revolution in another.

What positive themes does Cloud Atlas touch on?

In each story we see characters with their own strengths and weaknesses make important decisions:

  • The nineteenth century voyage of Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess) shows one man’s journey into a realisation of the evils of slavery. In his final scene he shows great integrity by quitting his involvement and calmly announcing his plans much to the anger of his father-in-law.
  • In a 1930s romance with Frobisher (Ben Wishaw) and Sixsmith (James D’Arcy) we see such creativity and love for life in the young composer Frobisher who in the end tragically commits suicide. Sixsmith’s love and forgiveness can be seen many years later as he still carries Frobisher’s letters and talks of him with fondness.
  • In a 1970s crime thriller the quick reasoning of Luisa Rey (Halle Berry), with the help of Joe Napier (Keith David), solves Sixsmith’s murder and foils the plot of a corrupt nuclear energy company and their hired assassin.
  • In the humorous contemporary tale of Timothy Cavendish (Jim Broadbent) we see how his refusal to be incarcerated against his will, his persistence and teamwork with his fellow residents lead to a daring escaping from a nursing home.
  • We see an awakening of curiosity in a cloned fast-food waitress Somni 451 (Doona Bea) in a Blade Runner type future. Somni modestly gives her account to an archivist of how she acquired her knowledge and how her sacrifice and words of wisdom have sowed the seeds for the revolution of her fellow clones.
  • To fulfil an important quest in a post-apocalyptic world, Meronym (Halle Berry) builds trust and rapport with a goat-herder Zachry (Tom Hanks) who is battling his own demons of guilt and hallucinations. One indelible image in this story is Zachry running scared from cannibals bravely rescuing his little sister.

Some may be concerned that the positive themes are undermined by the negativity that is also present in the violence and tragedy. But ultimately I would say that those these stories are poignant we are left with a very positive and hopeful conclusion.

In fact in the movie much of the author David Mitchel’s post-modern irony that deliberately undercuts the positive themes is omitted. This and other subtle changes make the movie even more upbeat than the original novel.

What is the main positive theme?

The movie hints at spirituality. Frobisher talks of a ‘better place’ in the afterlife and one or two lines of dialogue mention previous lives. A comet birthmark on a number of characters and the reuse of the same actors in each story also hints at the possibility of characters being reincarnated.

But I would say the main theme is of the movie is not really reincarnation but social change. It shows that each person is important and as they are true to their beliefs and stand up for what is right they can have a positive influence on others even across the generations.

As Somni says in probably the most memorable quote from the movie:

Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others, past and present, and by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.

I am aware that Cloud Atlas may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Some critics see its attempts at being profound as actually rather pretentious. But I for one found this to be an inspiring movie. Inspiring me both to random acts of kindness and to work on fulfilling my goals to somehow have a positive influence on future generations.


For more positive movies see:

The Top Ten Most Inspiring Movies of 2012
Posts by Ryan Niemiec in Positive Psychology News
Positive Psychology at the Movies(affiliate link)

February 28, 2013Permalink Leave a comment

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